Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Strong City: A Sermon on Isaiah 26

Sermon on Isaiah 26; John 5:25-29; Revelation 20:13; 21:2, 9-11, 23-27.  Delivered on 26 April 2015 at Pequea Evangelical Congregational Church.  The sixteenth installment of a sermon series on the Book of Isaiah; see also sermons on Isaiah 1; Isaiah 2; Isaiah 3-4; Isaiah 5; Isaiah 6; Isaiah 7-8a; Isaiah 8b-9; Isaiah 10-12; Isaiah 13-14, 21; Isaiah 15-18; Isaiah 19-20; Isaiah 22; Isaiah 23; Isaiah 24; and Isaiah 25.

If Isaiah 24 highlights the heaviness of sin and the need for our redemption, the next three chapters of Isaiah unfold to us the amazing things that the Resurrection of Jesus makes possible. It's so easy for us to forget that Easter isn't a day. Easter Sunday is a day, but Easter is a season; and more than a season, a lifestyle, a truth, a universe. Two weeks ago, on the second Sunday of Easter, Isaiah 25 showed us the Wedding Supper of the Lamb – the glorious truth that, because Christ is risen indeed, our union with his risen life will be perfected in the kingdom of God. The Church is engaged to Christ now, but because the Lamb lives again, we'll move in together, and he'll shower us with the fullness of his love forever, and we'll have everlasting fellowship of grace, and death and sorrow will be distant memories of the obsolete past.

As we pick up the prophet's book again on this fourth Sunday of Easter, Isaiah teaches us about two more significant blessings that the Resurrection of Jesus brings: resurrection for ourselves, and a life in the holy city. Isaiah plays with a contrast between two cities: the City of Chaos we met a couple chapters earlier (Isaiah 24:10), representing all the nations trapped under sin, versus this new “strong city” with salvation for its walls and gates wide open (Isaiah 26:1-2). The second can be introduced as victorious because the first one has fallen. Revelation does the same thing, contrasting two cities: “Babylon the Great City” (Revelation 18:21), the empire of ungodliness doomed to failure, versus a “holy city, the New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2), the final manifestation of “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” that the devil ultimately attacks in vain (Revelation 20:9). The harlot-city will be burned up (Revelation 17:16; 18:9), but the bride-city – a people called out from the sins of the harlot-city (Revelation 18:4) – will live and fill the earth forever. Where once the nations drank of the harlot-city's wrath of wine and “the kings of the earth committed fornication with her” (Revelation 18:3), the story ends when “the nations will walk by [the New Jerusalem's] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:24).

Sixteen hundred years ago, the great bishop Augustine wrote a hugely influential book called The City of God. Drawing on Isaiah and Revelation, and trying to make sense of the Visigoth sack of Rome and the decline of the Western Roman Empire – which had officially adopted Christianity as a state religion – Augustine describes history as a constant conflict between the City of Man (or City of the World), on the one hand, and the City of God, on the other. The City of Man, inspired by Satan and founded by Cain, is civilization where people invest themselves in worldly cares and pleasures; the City of God is civilization where people put aside worldly cares and pleasures for the sake of God's truth. The sack of Rome isn't the defeat of the City of God, because the Rome wasn't itself the City of God. Rome may suffer, Rome may fall, but through it all, we have a strong city.

Like Augustine long after him, Isaiah is forced to wrestle with the challenges of the present world. Sure, it's nice to know that someday, the City of Chaos will fall (Isaiah 25:2). Sure, it's nice to know that someday, God will lay low the lofty city and bring down those who dwell in the heights (Isaiah 26:5). But what good is that now? How does it give Joe Shmoe of Bethlehem hope to know that his great-great-grandson might see freedom? What good is all that future if it stays in the future, beyond the lifespan of anyone listening to Isaiah wax eloquent? And what good is the victory of the City of God if it has no practical impact on our lives today? How does it help us grapple with our suffering, how does it give us reason to live with wisdom and virtue, how does it kindle the fires of courage in our chests? How is the Great Feast good news if we aren't around to taste it? If the victory is delayed so all we see is the birth of empty wind (Isaiah 26:17-18), how does that answer the prayers of our present distress (Isaiah 26:16)? If it makes no difference for our generation, if we who are living now get no victory from acknowledging just one God and one Lord, why not party it up with the City of Man and keep living under other lords (Isaiah 26:13)? What good is it to die in faith if the promise isn't for you?

So Isaiah finds an answer. He sees the truth. If God is faithful, and surely he is, then God will be faithful not just to the nation as a whole, but to each generation and each individual who served him. And if he's faithful to them beyond death, and he's faithful to his purposes in creation, then, Isaiah exclaims, “Your dead shall live! Their corpses shall rise! O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead” (Isaiah 26:19). It isn't true that a lifetime of faithfulness only gives birth to wind; it gives birth to new life springing out of death's dust. Even those long dead, for centuries and centuries, haven't been forgotten from God's purposes. God is faithful. And the faithfulness of God means life from the dead; it means resurrection. Those who serve God do not have all memory of them wiped out (cf. Isaiah 26:14). They'll live again to see with their own eyes and enjoy in their own bodies the triumph when God increases and enlarges the nation (Isaiah 26:15). The patriarchs saw the promises from a distance and greeted them, desiring a better country, and so “God has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

The ancient Greeks didn't believe in resurrection. They thought it was a lousy idea. The Greeks often looked at the body as a prison for the soul, something holding the soul back from living to its full potential. They didn't want to believe in resurrection. That's why the Greeks usually didn't bury bodies whole. They, like Vikings and Hindus and other cultures, practiced cremation – a symbolic 'burning of the bridges' to show that the soul was now free of this yucky world of matter for good. But the Jews were famously different. They didn't hate the body. They knew that if God created us with bodies, then God meant for us to be part of the material world. That wasn't a punishment or a mistake; that was a blessing. The world may be running down and falling apart, it may be fraying at the seams from the force of sin, but they had hope that the God who made it was the God who'd restore it – and them. Mainstream Jews rejected the idea of death having the last word in its age-old argument with the goodness of creation.

So the Jews didn't cremate. They buried bodies intact, putting them in tombs, saving them as a witness that God isn't done with them and that they'd live again. It wasn't because they believed that God couldn't raise a person from ashes as easily as from bones; it's because burying the bones was a better testimony to their hope of resurrection. Even in how they treated their dead, they were determined to make a clear witness to each other and the world, clinging to the confession of their hope. As Daniel said, those sleeping in earth's dust will wake up, though not all with the same outcome: “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”, and “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky” (Daniel 12:2-3). Jesus himself said that, when the appointed time rolls around, he himself will raise all the dead, and they'll come out of their graves, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29). On that day, “the sea [will give] up the dead that are in it, Death and Hades [will give] up the dead that were in them, and all [will be] judged according to what they had done”, whether living according to faith or else according to sin (Revelation 20:13).

In a lot of our hymns, we have a very Greek idea of heaven as our ultimate goal. And it's partly because the Bible really does talk about the spirits of believers being in the presence of Jesus once we die. But that isn't even close to the end of what the Bible sets forth. If it were, why does the Bible even bother to talk about a “new earth”? What's the point of it? If our 'going-to-heaven' theology can't see a place for a new earth in the end, then our beliefs fall too far short of the Bible. The real biblical hope isn't represented in terms of 'heaven'; it's described through the grand symbol of the New Jerusalem, a city and a garden, the perfection of the church into a new civilization. But where is this civilization? Is it in the clouds? Is it in another universe? Is it beyond space and time? What does the Bible actually say?

John writes, “I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). An angelic guide, he said again (in case we missed it), “showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:10). The point isn't going to heaven; the point is that what's now stored up in heaven will come here: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). By the time the Wedding Supper of the Lamb happens, the Great Feast of Isaiah 25, God's attentions are squarely on the earth, because the earth will be where God lives: “See, the home of God is among men, and he will dwell with them” (Revelation 21:3).

The gospel is not about how to go to heaven. The gospel is about how to live heavenly life on earth – starting now, but even in the end, the everlasting age-to-come when the earth finally becomes everything God ever wanted to make of it. Here's where the resurrected saints will live – where David will play his harp again, where John the Baptist will get his head back, where Job will see his Redeemer in the flesh, where Jeremiah will laugh and smile because his tears and laments are no more. Here's where the resurrected believers will share the Wedding Supper of the Lamb with the Lamb himself – here on earth.

Here on earth is where every City-of-God deed we do will find its fullness. The earth as such won't be destroyed, tossed into the scrap heap and replaced; but its old fallen quality will pass away, just as Peter and John said it would (2 Peter 3:7-13; Revelation 21:1). We have no license to treat God's handiwork lightly as an inconsequential thing, as if defiling the earth through careless or cruel stewardship weren't a sin. Every act of caring love for the earth God made will be perfected in the new creation. We have no license to hold back our witness from impacting society. Every stand against oppression or ungodliness will be honored in the new creation, a building block in a strong city, made firm as we answer the resolute call of our God.

When it comes to this new city, Isaiah describes it as having salvation for its walls (Isaiah 26:1). In a later oracle, he makes clear that this has to be “the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14), where “you shall call your walls 'Salvation' and your gates 'Praise'” (Isaiah 60:18). Without walls, a city is defenseless, which is why the psalmist prayed, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem” (Psalm 51:18). This strong city isn't the ruined Zion of the exile, where “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). This is the real City of God, the one that “God establishes forever” (Psalm 48:8), with the salvation Jesus offers as the sure promise that “this is God, our God forever and ever” (Psalm 48:14). “With salvation's walls surrounded”, we can trust in Jesus our LORD forever, because he is “an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:4).

With this new city, Isaiah says that the gates will be open – so that there are no boundaries? So that there is no truth? No, “open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in” (Isaiah 26:2). But surely that's just an Old Testament idea, replaced by a New Testament that's only inclusive and only affirming? After all, when John describes the New Jerusalem, he says that “its gates will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there” (Revelation 21:25). So the gates are always open! But just the same, John says, “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination and falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27).

It's only those who have their robes washed clean who get “the right to the tree of life” and who “may enter the city by the gates” (Revelation 22:14). And John urges that it's those who hold fast to the gospel witness of faith, holiness, and love, even through all the opposition that cultural forces can bring – those are the people who, passing through the great ordeal, “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). It's those who overcome whom Jesus promises, “You will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life” (Revelation 3:5). The opposite are those who remain outside the city, prevented by the resistance of their own sin from entering it: “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15).

We may not like the sound of that. It may not fit an age where sin-affirming 'tolerance' (falsely so-called) is the buzzword on the streets and the idol to which law and mass media demand we bow, an idol so precious as to justify, in the minds of many, forcible coercion contrary to conscience – and without bowing to it and being marked as idol-compliant, no one can earn a livelihood, “no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark” (Revelation 13:17). It's a subtle thing, one even many in the church deny or dismiss if they aren't vigilant: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert” (1 Peter 5:8). It's only those who don't worship the Beast who can “share in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-6). Bowing to idols isn't Christ-like love; it's just idolatry, because love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

People left outside the gates may not fit the ideals of an age where one of the most popular Bible verses even on Christian lips is, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) – true in its context, a sermon against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3-5), but often stripped of that context to justify ignoring the rest of the Bible's picture, like Jesus's other statement, “Don't judge by appearances, but do judge with right judgment” (John 7:24), or Paul's affirmation that we have to judge sin within the church through properly executed church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:12), or Paul's inspired promise that “the saints will judge the world” (1 Corinthians 6:2). We aren't called to condemn, but we are called to have open eyes to see whether something accords with God's wisdom or not. And especially within the visible church itself, among those who profess to belong to the family of God, we're told not to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who live unrepentant lives of immorality, greed, theft, indulgence, hostility, or idolatry (1 Corinthians 5:11). And yet so often we ask, “Who am I to judge?” But if we'll even judge angels, how much more are we equipped to compare actions and attitudes to to the word of God, as Paul said (1 Corinthians 6:3)? And we serve “God the judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23), both in the church and outside the church (1 Corinthians 6:13). Pointing to his revealed wisdom on how to live should be an act of love, if we carry it out with a loving heart and if we remember, as G. K. Chesterton once said, that:

The one really strong case for Christianity is that even those who condemn sins have to confess them. It is a good principle for Pharisees that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. But it is the good principle for Christians that he who casts the first stone should declare that he is not without sin. The criminal may or may not plead guilty. But the judge should always plead guilty.

Jesus was hard on the Pharisees, because of all the Jewish groups in his day, they were the closest to the message he brought. The Sadducees, the Herodians, the Essenes, the Zealots – they were way off the mark. The Pharisees said many of the right things, but they had the wrong heart and, because of that, they didn't follow through with even their own message: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses; therefore, do whatever they teach you, and follow it; but don't do as they do, for they don't practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:2-3). When it came to many sins, Jesus was far more strict than the Pharisees! But he was also gentle with sinners: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”, the Pharisees complained (Luke 15:2) – but where they feared he affirmed sinners in their sins, Jesus said it was just the opposite: “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). When we call people to repentance, we should remember that we aren't without sin; we too must plead guilty (1 John 1:8-10). And if a sinner is finally left outside the gates, he's outside gates that are permanently open; the only thing preventing him is his own stubborn devotion to his own sin.

So why does the resurrection of Jesus matter? It matters because it makes possible the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. It matters because it guarantees our resurrection, the affirmation of God's good creation and the bodies we have within it. God started resurrection-work with Jesus, and what God starts, God finishes. It matters because it justifies our courage in the face of those who can kill the body but can't kill the soul (Matthew 10:28). It matters because it's the foundation for the New Jerusalem, our hope of a life better than Eden – not just a garden, but a city, meaning that every good use of our gifts and graces will be caught up into it and perfected there. We ourselves, not just our ancestors or our descendants, have this hope for “a strong city” (Isaiah 26:1). And it matters now because how we choose to respond to Jesus now will shape our very own destiny then.

If we say we respond to Jesus in faith, is it a living faith or a dead faith (James 2:26)? If it's a living faith, then it naturally answers the apostolic message with the “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). Does this mean that we're saved by works? No, we don't create our own peace: “O LORD, you will ordain peace for us, for indeed, all that we've done, you've done for us” (Isaiah 26:12). We're saved by grace – God did it for us – through faith – we trust that God did it for us, and we stick by him – and we're saved for works, which reveal the character of the faith we live and the grace at work within us (Ephesians 2:8-10). The resurrection of Jesus matters.

Are we living like it matters? Are we standing firm like it matters? Are we bearing witness to how it matters, how “we have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19) – not a wish, not an idle dream, but a hope sealed by an unbreakable promise from the God of Truth – and how “in hope we were saved”, and “if we hope for what we don't see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25)? The resurrection is true; Christ is risen; the Lord of Life is alive, and we will see him alive! And in this truth, we see the big beauty of God's zeal for his people – for us (Isaiah 26:11). So “let us hold fast” in purity of life and in faithful witness “to the confession of our hope” – the hope of resurrection, hope even for dwellers in the dust, the hope of a strong city, the true Zion of which such glorious things are spoken (Psalm 87:3) – “let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Feast for All Peoples: A Sermon on Isaiah 25

Sermon on Isaiah 25; Luke 24; 1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 19-21.  Delivered on 12 April 2015 at Pequea Evangelical Congregational Church.  The fifteenth installment of a sermon series on the Book of Isaiah; see also sermons on Isaiah 1; Isaiah 2; Isaiah 3-4; Isaiah 5; Isaiah 6; Isaiah 7-8a; Isaiah 8b-9; Isaiah 10-12; Isaiah 13-14, 21; Isaiah 15-18; Isaiah 19-20; Isaiah 22; Isaiah 23; and Isaiah 24.

Three weeks ago, before Holy Week, we left off by meditating on the darkness of Isaiah 24, the climax of the Oracles Against the Nations (Isaiah 13-23) and an indictment of the world-sinking weight of human sin. And that led us to consider how the only hopeful resolution of sin is in the cross. Only Jesus could bear that load for us; if we try to do it ourselves, if we pin our hopes on our good works outweighing the world, we slide irresistibly down the path into the pit. Our good works can't save us, because they're just so much extra baggage: “Whatever doesn't proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Salvation comes only by faith, a faith in the world-bearing Jesus, a “faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6).

But now we find ourselves on the other side of Good Friday, even the other side of Easter. The world of sin has been dealt with! Christ is risen! All our sin is buried in his tomb – but he isn't, and so neither are we any longer located where our sin is buried! Isn't it a joy to live in an Easter world? And that's what Isaiah wants to show us. Good Friday deals with Isaiah 24; and only after Isaiah 24 is over can Easter give birth to Isaiah 25 and the great meal to end all death and sorrow. We have that solid hope of celebration: “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure” (Isaiah 25:1). We hear already echoes of “the song of them that triumph, / the shout of them that feast.”

Late on that first Easter Sunday, after Jesus had revealed himself to Mary Magdalene – the woman whom tradition calls “the apostle to the apostles”, because she brought them the first report of the gospel of resurrection – Jesus appeared incognito to a pair of disciples on their way out of Jerusalem, taking the seven-mile hike to Emmaus. They walked with the Lord – and they didn't even know it. They were bundled up in their fears and frustrations, their perplexities and problems. They couldn't hide it: they were “looking sad” (Luke 24:17). When Jesus asks them what's going on, they tell Jesus about Jesus (Luke 24:18-24).

Note well what they say about him: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Aren't those such sad words: 'Had hoped'? For Cleopas and his friend, hope had become a dead thing, lost at the cross. They only 'had hoped'. They no longer call Jesus 'Lord', 'Messiah', 'Son of God'; they only call him “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). They've rolled back Peter's God-given confession to the mere rumors of the crowds (Matthew 16:13-17) – even though they'd heard what Mary Magdalene and the other women said, a report of “a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:23). Yet still they only 'had hoped' – 'had hoped', but no longer. To them, hope was dead, not alive – they were too “slow of heart” (Luke 24:25) to yet catch on that God “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

And so, on the walk to Emmaus, Jesus walks with them anonymously, joins them, rebirthing their hope by opening up the Bible to them, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27), showing them from Genesis through 2 Chronicles how the whole Old Testament scripture bears witness to him, how all its patterns and prophecies can only fit together if they climax in his death and resurrection: “Wasn't it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26), Jesus asks them. He unfolded for them God's “plans formed of old, faithful and sure” (Isaiah 25:1). They recognize the truth in his words – their hearts burn within their chests (Luke 24:32) – but they don't yet recognize the Lord who's walked with them these seven miles out of Jerusalem.

Not until they invite him in. Not until they bring Jesus home with them. They want to show hospitality to this strange guest, this unknown teacher, this master of mystery. He makes them work for it: he feigns a continued trek into the darkness of night (Luke 24:28). He enters a house in Emmaus as their guest (Luke 24:29), but at supper time, he is the one who takes the bread, he's the one who blesses it, he's the one who breaks it and hands it out to them (Luke 24:30). When we invite him as guest, he feeds us as an unexpected host. And that's how Cleopas and his friend have the first Easter dinner with the risen Jesus, getting bread from the hands of the risen Bread of Life (cf. John 6:35). Their walk with Jesus leads them from fear to faith, opens up the Bible to them, and leads to a meal of fellowship – one continued later that night in Jerusalem when Cleopas and his friend rejoin the others, and Jesus eats fish in their presence (Luke 24:41-43).

Isaiah 25 is about a meal of fellowship on the holy mountain, a place of protection and refuge. “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines” (Isaiah 25:6). There “on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” where “the LORD of hosts will reign” (Isaiah 24:23), everyone from every background is welcome to eat – not just to eat, but to eat the very best! As good as the fire hall's chicken pot pie was yesterday and it was good! it's got nothing on Isaiah 25. This is the LORD's Feast, the true LORD's Supper, to which our every Eucharist and Love-Feast is a holy foretaste.

Thousands of years ago, scripture tells us about another feast, one that sealed the Covenant of the Law, when the elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai into the LORD's presence and “saw the God of Israel”, and “they beheld God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9-11). They caught a distant and shrouded glimpse of God and were spared. But we aren't called to come to Mount Sinai, with its “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and tempest” (Hebrews 12:18). We aren't called for a short meal in fear. We are called “to Mount Zion”, and “to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all”, with whom sits “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:22-24), ready to host an everlasting feast.

The Great Feast is a celebration that the time of death's oppression and sorrow is over. The LORD “will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7). Coming under the pall of death is one thing that unites every sinful man, woman, and child from the days of Adam 'til now. It's a shroud, a sheet, a burial linen; it's a veil, a heavy thing that wrapped us up and weighed us down.

But on this mountain, when the hand of the LORD rested there (Isaiah 25:10), the death-blow to death was struck at the cross and at the tomb; and on this mountain, the LORD “will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8). Death, already unfanged and crippled, has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55), which is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). Death still clings on – “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26) – but because Christ is risen, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54), his victory that he shares with us (1 Corinthians 15:57).

What Jesus accomplished when he was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25) will fully bear fruit at that last Great Feast, the feast to which all feasts point, when he tenderly “will wipe away the tears from all faces” and bring our disgrace and our grief to an end (Isaiah 25:8). Already he gives “the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31), leading up to the day he'll personally “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” and do away with “mourning and crying and pain” at the Great Feast (Revelation 21:4). We taste morsels of Isaiah 25 already, and if we “endure to the end” and enter our final salvation (Matthew 10:22), we'll be seated for the full dinner.  All the courses.  Every course of blessing; every dish of grace.

And of course, the whole point is – it's a feast! A joyful meal! After the death of death, it's time for feasting, it's time for celebrating life with lively joy. The New Testament picks up this theme and adds a twist: this Great Feast isn't just an ordinary meal; it's a wedding banquet. Jesus told parables about a king throwing a wedding party for his son and sending out his servants to invite people to the feast – but the first round of invitees, the chosen people, don't come (Matthew 22:2-7). So now the king sends his servants with the instruction, “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:9). It isn't just for those who were 'good' – the guests are gathered from “both good and bad” (Matthew 22:10), the sorts of sinners and social outcasts Jesus came to save (Luke 5:32). At the big wedding feast, Jesus says, even outsiders “will come from east and west, from north and south” to dine alongside the patriarchs and the prophets “in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 8:10-11; Luke 13:28-29).

Revelation picks up on the same theme. Just as Isaiah moves from the destruction of the City of Chaos (Isaiah 24; 25:2) to the praise-filled feast on the mountain (Isaiah 25), John of Patmos moves from the fall of Babylon the Great (Revelation 18) to a blessing on all those who've RSVP'd to “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9), which takes place in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). The feast-after-death is a wedding feast. Right now, the Church is Christ's fiancée – he “loved the Church and gave himself up for her, in order to make holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the Church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind” (Ephesians 5:25-27). He “gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14), purified “from dead works to worship the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). We're being sanctified, we're growing to maturity (Ephesians 4:13), but we're not quite yet presentable in full.

But in the new creation, when the Church is finally “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2) – the engagement is over, the covenant is consummated, the marriage begins! That's when Christ and the Church move in together: “See, the home of God is among men; he will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3). The marriage begins – “he will wipe every tear from their eyes; death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)! No more heartbreak, no more grief, no more agony, no more wondering where God is in all this. All the mayhem covered by our 24-hour news cycle will be “no more”. Only when all former things have passed away, only when the Church in her fullness is brought to Christ in his fullness, only when our intimacy with him goes beyond all eye could ever see or ear could ever hear in this world, can the “bride” finally be called “the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9). Because Jesus lives, so shall his bride! The marriage begins – and the feast goes on forever, dining on fruit from the tree of life, which has leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).

It's a celebration! There is no celebration greater! This will be the Great Easter of the Universe! And the walk to Emmaus, with its first Easter dinner, is poignant foreshadowing. We too walk with Jesus, even when we don't recognize his hand in the stressful outworking of our lives. If we're disciples, we learn from him to view the world in light of God's Word and then act accordingly. And a life of this sort of discipleship will lead up to full fellowship at the Meal in the kingdom of God, where the patriarchs and prophets and martyrs attend – and we're invited too, we're asked to RSVP in faith and hope and love.

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, we celebrated holy communion. In this world where “we know in part”, where “we see in a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), we still meet Jesus, the Church's Husband-to-Be, at the table, and he's made known to us “in the breaking of the bread”, just like at Emmaus (Luke 24:35). This is not just a meal with a crucified Jesus, now long dead. This is a meal with a Christ who is risen! This is a meal with the risen Christ who unfanged death there at the Holy Mountain! This is a meal with the risen Christ who even now wipes away our tears and soothes our fears by his Spirit.

But we glimpse him now hidden, present yet veiled in bread and wine. Even the veiled presence of Christ should fill us with joy – it's an appetizer that promises the main course! Christ is risen! “Now we see in a glass darkly, but then we will see face-to-face” (1 Corinthians 13:12) when the veil is lifted from our eyes at the wedding celebration, when our eyes are opened to behold him in his glory. But then, on that day, we will look with unveiled eyes into the beauty of the Lord Jesus and say, “This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9). We're bursting with anticipation for the endless honeymoon of freedom and life – “[We] know not, O [we] know not, / what joys await [us] there, / what radiancy of glory, / what bliss beyond compare!” We're waiting for the wedding banquet!

But how can people show up for the feast if they don't know it's going on? How can they believe if they haven't heard? And how can they hear without being told? And how can they be told if those who know don't go? (Romans 10:14-15) In the parable of the wedding feast, the king told his servants, “Go” (Matthew 22:9)! “Go into the main streets, and invite everyone you find” – and didn't our King commission us to go and "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19)? As servants of the king and heralds of the feast, are we going? Are we finding? Are we sharing what Jesus has opened our eyes to see? Are we inviting people to the Great Celebration, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb?

There is literally no greater message, no bigger gospel. There's no one beneath this invitation, and there's no one above it. Jesus is “a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4). No one has too much to offer, and no one has too little to offer. There's no billionaire who can't enter the gate with humility. There's no beggar who can't enter the gate with faith. There's no persecutor who can't enter the gate with repentance. There's no martyr who can't enter the gate “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).

The invitation is for skeptics and scoffers, thieves and terrorists, alcoholics and addicts, politicians and pundits, paratroopers and pacifists, cheaters and churchgoers and convicts and celebrities. The invitation goes out to all sinners from greatest to least, all in need of repentance and transformation: “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexual offenders, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers”, and “this is what some of [us] used to be; but [we] were washed, [we] were sanctified, [we] were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The invitation is for the tattooed and pierced, for metalheads and blues fans and classical music afficionados, for all nations and all social classes and all ages – the Lord “will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines” (Isaiah 25:6). It really is a “feast for all peoples”. There's a spot for everyone at the table, when Christ “will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8). There's no cheek too dirty or too privileged for him to touch to tenderly wipe away our tears. If we want to be involved in the Spirit's work, we have invitations to extend, to bid all people to the gospel-feast: “The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let everyone who hears say, 'Come.' And let everyone who is thirsty come” (Revelation 22:17).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Does It Really Matter?, Part II: A Tag-Team Easter Homily

Throughout the Bible, God shows us a clear pattern: where there's an exile, there's a return; where there's a captivity, there's an exodus. Nothing in the Old Testament makes sense unless that pattern comes to a great climax, just as the prophets constantly said that it would. Nothing in the Bible makes sense without hope of return from our exile away from God's presence. Nothing in the Bible or in the world makes sense without an exodus from our captivity to sin and death. Without that, everything is senseless. But the resurrection of Jesus is the restoration of sense. The resurrection of Jesus means that God really stepped into human shoes to be exiled from the land of the living – and to return. For us, all for us. The resurrection of Jesus means that the Lord is alive! And “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over him” (Romans 6:9).

The Apostle Paul wrote that, at the time of his deepest despair in the face of death, he knew that he had no reason to rely on himself. No works could save him; no works could protect him. Instead of putting his faith in himself, he resolved that “we would not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). That's who God is. The true God is the “God who raises the dead”. The defining character of God is that he speaks light into the darkness and creates life right under death's nose. In the beginning, he breathed life into dead dust and crowned it his image (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7). This God is a God who guarantees life's victory over death – and if you want to see him in action, look no further than his Son.

The essential mode of our hearts has to be trust in the God who conquers death with life, the God made visible to us in the life of Jesus. That's why “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Without this, we're hopeless, because the scriptures say that Jesus was “handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). If the second thing didn't happen, then the first had no power. So “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is pointless and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

That's a big 'if' – and praise God, it's an empty 'if'! Because Christ has been raised! Jesus is alive! He is King! And that means that the promised resurrection, the long-awaited victory of God, has already started. It started with Jesus, and that's the concrete guarantee that his sacrifice was accepted by God. And since that's the truth, then the gates of forgiveness are thrown wide open. By his grace, all we need is faith to enter in. But it's also the concrete guarantee that death is not the end for us, and even heaven isn't the end for us: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Death's quest to divorce us from God's good creation will fail. Our hope isn't to escape our bodies and leave the earth and flit around in the clouds; our hope is that “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). If the silent tomb of Jesus didn't stay silent – and it didn't – then neither will the cemetery right outside these walls! Jesus Christ is the firstfruits from the dead, and that proves the full harvest to come (1 Corinthians 15:20)!

But since Jesus Christ is risen, then the resurrection-life should already be beginning in our hearts. We are a body, but “he is the head of the body, the church”, and “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). And the body grows from the head, when God grants the growth (Colossians 2:19). That means that we aren't just a random collection of individuals with common interests who are located at the same building now and again. That's not the church; that's a social club! That's not a living body; that's decomposition! We are not called to be a collection; we're called to be a community, the community of the living Christ. We're called to actively live as that holy community, working together as a faithful fellowship on a continual basis, investing in one another's growth and well-being. That is how a living body lives.

So if Christ has been raised – and he is risen! – “set your minds on things that are above”, not on things below (Colossians 3:2). It's the 'things above' that will be obvious everywhere when “Christ [our] life is revealed” and we “also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). The rule of 'things below' lost when Jesus beat the Grave and claimed the victory for Life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). The 'things below' separate; the 'things above' unite – for there's one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one body, one faith, one baptism, one hope and holy calling (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Now, since the physical body of Jesus is glorified beyond death and is ascended to the Father's throne above, the corporate body of Jesus on earth is called with one holy calling to put away anything that diminishes our life together. Our life together is hindered by 'things below' – things like impurity, greed, anger, lies, impatience, unkindness, unforgiveness, and in short, all the things that tear the church apart and make parts of Christ's body pretend they're better off alone (cf. Colossians 3:5-13). If we choose to cling to these 'things below', then we're pretending in practice that Christ isn't really risen. And that's a lie! Because Christ is risen, and that means he sums up all things in heaven and earth under one headship (Ephesians 1:10). Does it really matter? A trillion times, yes!

If we're a body, then we're a community. And as a community, we commune. A real community has to have a communion, and ours is unveiled when we share in the same sacred meal, refueling our body with the resurrection-life made available for us when Jesus was voluntarily broken for our sins. We don't live together under our own power, any more than we live separately in the Spirit – which is a contradiction in terms, since “the unity of the Spirit” is lived in “the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). No, we live together through Christ's life, which broke through death and tunneled out the other side into glory. We're on a journey through the path Christ made for us – together. So, to have life for the journey, let's eat the feast of God from the Lord's table – together. Because Christ is risen!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Fourth Word from the Cross: A Good Friday Message

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?", which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"     (Mark 15:33-34)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13; cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). Three hours into the shadows of dread that cloak the earth, Jesus gives voice in this fateful moment – I think the darkest instant in the life of God from everlasting to everlasting – to how true he found that message. Having “drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath”, having drained “to the dregs the bowl of staggering” (Isaiah 51:17), having been denied for it to leave his hands (Isaiah 51:22; Matthew 26:39), now the curse of wrath reaches critical mass upon the tree. Yet for the Gospel of Mark, this point is the climax of how Jesus reveals himself; the baptism and the transfiguration lead up to this moment, this outburst.

Because Mark tells us the story of the passion by saturating it with the psalms of lament, it's no surprise to find the opening words of Psalm 22 on Jesus' lips: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; cf. Psalm 22:1). The lament psalms usually beg God not to forsake us in the future; it's the worst fate the psalmist can think of. But here, Jesus takes up the psalmist's place at the lowest of the lows, not just feeling forsaken but experiencing it as a reality. The same God who proved himself trustworthy to generations (Psalm 22:4), the same God who spoke from heaven and empowered miraculous deliverance, now looks and feels like a no-show.

My God, my God, why leav'st thou me,
    when I with anguish faint?
O why so far from me remov'd,
    and from my loud complaint?
All day, but all the day unheard,
    to thee do I complain;
With cries implore relief all night,
    but cry all night in vain....
My strength, like potter's earth, is parch'd,
    my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And to the silent shades of death
    my fainting soul withdraws.
(Brady and Tate 1698:29, 31)

In quoting this psalm, Jesus wants us to know he's stepping into our shoes in our darkest moments, the moments when we lose sight of even the smallest joys. He knows what it's like; God knows what it's like. Maybe you've watched a loved one waste away – early, too early, unnaturally early – and you've fallen on your knees through sleepless nights, pleading with God, imploring him to heal. Maybe you've lost your job, your pension, your security; maybe you're at wit's end to make ends meet; maybe everything's out of your hands. Maybe you've been consumed by self-loathing and self-doubt, wondering why the world's stacked against you, wondering why God doesn't tip the scales in your favor. Maybe you've invested all your hopes and dreams into that last-ditch prayer and felt shattered in the end, like a sword's pierced your very heart, like your world's a snow globe rolling off a cliff and the screams of your descent fall on deaf ears. And maybe, as the pieces scatter out of your reach, as the universe spins out of control, you've felt these words like never before: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Maybe you've cried out by day without an answer, maybe you've called out in the night and found no rest (Psalm 22:2). Maybe you've felt like no grief was ever like yours. But Jesus on the cross means that God knows how it feels. No grief was ever like his.

Or maybe you feel spiritually bankrupt. Maybe you're lost in the dark, numb to the world, crying out in desolation and desperation and despair. You think, “If I could just see a spark through the clouds, if I can only know that there's a light beyond the abyss of my heart, I can go on living.” And you pray and pray 'til you're blue in the face, searching for hope despite the nauseating cold inside, groping blindly for a lifeline when you're convinced you're as good as dead, begging for even mustard-seed faith when doubts and disbelief gnaw your soul to tatters – and the minutes and hours tick by, and days lapse into weeks or months or years, and heaven is silent as death. And you cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” I've been there. But most important of all, Jesus on the cross means that God himself has been in those shoes; he's felt as we've felt at our lowest. God understands depression, God understands loneliness, God understands helplessness, God understands despair, God understands desperation. He's stepped into our shoes at the lowest place they've ever fallen. God knows what it's like to be God-forsaken. He asks our questions, he voices our doubts and burdens, by standing with us in the depths. “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him” (Psalm 97:2).

That's the curious thing about the gospel. God feeling God-forsaken. The king, lifted up on a throne to rule – but the crown is sharp and bloody, and the throne looks like shame and blood. He belongs at the Father's right hand, aglow with power and glory; and the cross doesn't contradict that, the cross inaugurates it. For this God, the real God, the only God worth calling 'God', to start ruling is to suffer pain and shame and abandonment; it is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the downtrodden and the outcasts, with the broken-hearted whom he came to bind up (Psalm 147:3). When God becomes flesh, it's to be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). There's the beauty of the gospel. Jesus suffered pain, he suffered shame, he suffered abandonment – not to abolish them for his people, but to redeem them into a way of hope. How can the persecuted be called 'blessed' (Matthew 5:10-12)? How can it be that “if you suffer for doing what's right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14)? Because Jesus was persecuted, and in the midst of persecution, we can choose to grow closer to him through that persecution. And if we're drawn close to our Lord, then that's a blessing greater than all the harm persecution can do. As the Christian philosopher Marilyn McCord Adams writes about suffering, and especially the final suffering of martyrdom:

God in Christ turns martyrdom into an opportunity for intimacy and identification with him. … The more the believer loves his Lord, the more he wants to know what it was like for him, what it is like to be him. The cross of Christ permits the martyr to find in his deepest agonies and future death a sure access to Christ's experience. … Moreover, as the believer enters into the love of Christ and shares his love for the world, he will be able to appreciate his own suffering as a welcome key into the lives of others. … For Christians as for others in this life, the fact of evil is a mystery. The answer is a more wonderful mystery – God himself.

That's the answer, that's the costly mystery. Jesus voluntarily walked into that dark night of the soul. He stepped into the perceived and practical absence of his Father, drinking the cup of God's wrath, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). And here's a thought: if the sufferings of God-made-flesh can redeem suffering, then the God-forsakenness of God can redeem God-forsakenness. When we feel like we're plummeting into the void, when we can't understand why God seems silent, we may shake our fists at the sky – or, we can actually identify with Christ on the cross. Cling to that cross, cling to that prayer, cling to those words! Don't pray them in opposition to Jesus; pray them with Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus stood in the darkness and the fog to meet us there, in the lonely walk through the valley of the shadow of death, in that friendless place between the crown of thorns and the jeering crowd, out in the hinterlands where all blessings come hidden. The great Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, pointed out over four centuries ago how true this is: If we feel spiritual joy all the time, then maybe we love God only for the way he makes us feel. Maybe we'll distort our faith into an endless pursuit of one spiritual high after another, neglecting the cross and everything it means. That was a temptation even in the first century or the sixteenth century – how much more for American consumers accustomed to having hundreds of TV channels or clothing brands, used to instant long-distance calls and to fast food and to immediate gratification of all sorts?

And so, St. John suggests, it may be the kindest thing God can do to seem to hide in silence, training us in costly patience as a mother weans an infant, teaching us to love him for his own sake and not for any ulterior motive of pleasure, whether worldly or even spiritual. God “seeks to bring [us] out of that ignoble kind of love to a higher degree of love for him”, he “turns all this light of [ours] into darkness, and shuts against [us] the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which [we] were tasting in God”, to be led “through these solitary places of the wilderness”.

If we wait upon the Lord when every other voice calls it hopeless, if we sit in sorrowful silence without deserting the God who seems absent, then when the cloud lifts, we find that God is closer than we ever dreamed – not in spite of the distance, but because Christ our God was already at our side of the chasm, suffering with us so all our suffering could be suffered with him – and “if we suffer with him, we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). If our hope is to “reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6), it has to begin on the throne where he was crowned: the cross, the cross, where he called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But the story isn't done. When we meet God in the raging storm, where all is dark and cold and where we can't find him, if we meet God in the God-forsakenness of the cross, we have the blessed assurance that the darkness will not be forever: “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back; in a surge of anger, I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:7-8). Now, that moment, brief to the Lord, may demand patience from our shortsighted and easily worn-out hearts. Mother Teresa famously spent most of her ministry in despair because she couldn't feel God's presence with her – for nearly half a century. In one letter, hear what she wrote:

As for me – what will I tell you? I have got nothing, since I have not got him whom my heart and soul longs to possess. Aloneness is so great. From within and from without, I find no one to turn to. … If there is hell, this must be one. How terrible it is to be without God – no prayer, no faith, no love. The only thing that still remains is the conviction that the work is his. … And yet … in spite of all these, I want to be faithful to him, to spend myself for him, to love him not for what he gives but for what he takes, to be at his disposal.

She later penned the remark, “If we feel like this, I wonder what Jesus must have felt during his agony, when he went through all these unspoken and hidden wounds.” But through all that great aloneness, Mother Teresa didn't turn her back on God, or on the poor he called her to serve; she didn't give up the communion of believers, she didn't drop the habit of prayer, she kept her arm outstretched to God through all the decades of the dark night of her soul. It may be a soul-tormenting wait, but that isn't how the story ends.

Jesus wasn't pulling words out of context. He knew very well how the twenty-second psalm goes. Yes, it runs through scorn: “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (Psalm 22:7). Yes, it runs through opposition: “Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me” (Psalm 22:13). Yes, it runs through weakness: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:14-15). Yes, it runs through spectacle: “All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Psalm 22:17-18). It runs through all these, but where does it end?

But you, O LORD, don't be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. … For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. … All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:19, 24, 27-28)

This isn't the surrender of prayer; this is persevering in prayer! If we're praying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” with Jesus, then we have the certain hope that the end of that prayer – in God's time, not ours – will be the same as it was with Jesus. There is light at the end of the tunnel, there is a sun behind those clouds, and even if it takes years of patient discipline, God will not despise or scorn any suffering we co-suffer with Christ. And faith in spite of feelings will yield a harvest for God from all families of nations – starting right here where we are. We seldom get the luxury of an explanation for our suffering, including the pains of our souls. But what we need isn't answers so much as to draw close to the Answer, the Answer made flesh who dwelled among us, full of grace and truth (cf. John 1:14). We can draw near to him at the very moment of our felt distance from God, and we can refuse to fall away, hoping beyond hope in the sure promise that, even if we die in this Answer, so we shall rise in him as well (cf. Romans 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:11).

But yes, it's hard. It's hard to “wait on the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait on the LORD” (Psalm 27:14). Yet we do have the promise that “those who wait for the LORD” in meekness “will inherit the land” (Psalm 37:9-11; Matthew 5:5) – maybe in this age, but for sure in the age to come, the everlasting sabbath of God's people (Hebrews 4:9-11). That puts the pain of our souls in perspective, but it doesn't make it any less painful – for us or for Jesus, hanging on the cross, awash in the burden of our sin, our alienation, our isolation, our desolation. Go to him, no matter how you feel. If you feel light, go to him and remember the cost. If you feel heavy, if you feel alone and adrift, go to him and grow close to the one who understands. There he is – there, on the cross, despised and afflicted, his arms stretched wide to welcome us in, as he calls out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”